No matter where in the world you travel, family is at the heart of agriculture. Above the main show ring at Canadian Western Agribition in 2019, Ruby Canning was taking a short break in the International Business Centre. Backpack and camera at her side, the young Australian lit up when she talked about how much showing cattle with her family meant to her.
“Showing cattle is a big part of what we do as a family,” said Canning. “I went to boarding school for three years, and then I lived in New Zealand for a year where I studied before coming to Australia to complete my studies.”
Canning was entering her final year of a bachelor of business with a major in marketing, but was still very active with the show cattle. Being away from her parents and younger brother while studying made working together to exhibit their cattle even more meaningful.
“Those weeks during the year… we’re all together at the same time at the same place from dawn to dusk, and I think that’s what makes the shows so special for us… it’s family.”
The importance of family shines through when Canning speaks about her background in beef production. Her maternal grandparents were originally from Malta, moving to Australia and establishing a Simmental herd in the early 1970s. Canning’s father, a fifth-generation beef producer, grew up in Alberta, and met her mother while working in Australia.
Canning’s family continues to raise cattle at their family operation, Maverick Simmentals, near Geelong in Victoria. The herd consists of purebred Simmentals and Fleckvieh genetics.
“It’s something that we’ve been doing for all our lives, and we just love it,” she said. Following in the footsteps of Canning’s late grandfather is something that means a lot to her and her family.
In addition to playing a role in her family’s operation, Canning and her brother have their own Simmental herd, Mavstar Simmentals, which they started at a young age using genetics from their grandparents’ herd. To carry on that legacy while moving in their own direction means a lot to the siblings.
“We’re that next generation to keep the family name, to keep the family stud, and it’s good to also have the family stud but also to have our own identity in the industry,” said Canning. They also run a small commercial herd that features Simmental, Salers and Red Angus genetics.
Both Canning and her brother have been very active in junior beef competitions, excelling in conformation, judging and showmanship, or parading as it’s known in Australia. She’s particularly proud of the fact that they breed and raise all the cattle they bring out to shows.
“I find it quite special to know that the cattle we’ve got in our herd, my family has been breeding those genetics for years,” she said.
She’s also involved with Australia’s Angus Youth association, the largest junior beef organization in the country. “I enjoy and appreciate the opportunities the industry provides for the next generation of agricultural enthusiasts.”
In 2016, Canning took top honours in the annual National Beef Parader competition, in which young competitors qualify through state-level showmanship finals at exhibitions throughout the year.
“That’s the highest accolade you can win in Australia and across New Zealand as well for parading,” she said. “You’ve got a winner from each state that comes together for nationals, and you have a representative from New Zealand… I was one of the youngest competitors, and I felt so honoured to win my first year competing in national finals.”
In addition to successes in the youth competitions, Canning and her family have had many interstate successes with cattle at royal shows throughout Australia.
“We love showing whilst showcasing our breeding program; however, it is so important to us that our herd and genetics are functional and practical for the commercial industry, too.”
Canning wanted to attend Agribition because of her family’s connection to this major Canadian show, and to further her own opportunities in the beef industry.
“Dad used to show at Agribition. Mom came to Agribition a few times, and it just seemed like a really good opportunity to meet some other international people that were also passionate about cattle and the industry, and also just to meet some other people my age that are also very involved with the beef industry in general,” she said.
The opportunity to see Canadian genetics in person was a draw for Canning, who was looking on behalf of her family’s operation. “At home, I’m very involved with the decision-making in the herd, and I think that’s something that we’ve always been encouraged in our family since we were quite young is to have an opinion on the stud,” she said. “We do a lot of embryo programs just for in-herd use and for a few sales as well, and that’s pretty much my choices there, so I’m ultimately sourcing for those programs.”
With her father being Canadian, she’s also in the process of obtaining dual citizenship and hopes to perhaps work in Canada after finishing her post-secondary studies. Canning received an industry scholarship to support a return to Canada this year, which would have allowed her to look at feed efficiency and compare how Canadian and Australian cattle are finished. However, COVID-19 has delayed those plans. She’s currently back on the family farm, finishing her degree online.
The pandemic has made planning difficult, Canning said, “but it is lovely being back home for a while with the family and the cows. I have been able to continue my livestock photography, whilst working and studying, and spending some quality time with the family.”
In addition to raising cattle and working to complete her business degree, Canning has her own photography business, Mavstar Photography. With her passion for beef production, it’s no surprise that cattle became some of her most frequent photography subjects, with contract jobs getting her started in livestock photography. She freelances for a newspaper at home, The Stock and Land, in which she also captures rural-focused images.
“I’m very passionate about the beef industry and the opportunities that we can have currently and in the future, and I just hope to stay in the industry and follow in my family’s footsteps,” she said of her future plans. “I grew up looking up to my grandfather especially, his passion and drive. He always told us: ‘Kids, whatever you do in life, strive for the top and make us all proud whilst carrying on the family legacy.’ My grandfather passed away when I was 12 years old, and he will always be my greatest influence.”